Top 10 American History Facts

As the country enters a presidential election year, decision-makers for many of the nation’s colleges need to add teaching America’s history and founding principles to their New Year’s resolution lists. A new list reveals that many of the nation’s soon-to-be college graduates are forgetting important facts about American history and institutions, leaving them ill-prepared to form knowledgeable opinions regarding political candidates.
A recent report from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), “Failing Our Students, Failing America,” details the findings of ISI’s second American civic literacy study, identifying the top 10 facts college students “unlearn” about American history. This list is based on how much knowledge college students “unlearn” on various American history subjects between freshman and senior years, using data gathered from an American civic literacy exam given to more than 14,000 undergraduate students from 50 colleges across the nation.

The rankings were determined by subtracting average freshman scores from average senior scores.

The landmark Marbury v. Madison case and its role in establishing the power of judicial review tops the ISI list with a -10.47% negative learning score.

Overall, the average score for college seniors on ISI’s 60 multiple-choice question civic literacy exam was 54.2%, or an “F.” This score was just 3.8 points higher than the average freshman score.  In fact, at many of the nation’s most prestigious universities, graduating seniors actually did worse than incoming freshmen.  At the bottom of the civic-knowledge gain rankings are Cornell, Yale, Duke and Princeton—four prestigious colleges that cost more than $30,000 per year.  And not one college surveyed can boast that its seniors scored, on average, even a “C” in American civic knowledge. 

The complete results of ISI’s American civic literacy study can be found at

Theme:  Negative Learning

1. Power of Judicial Review -10.47% 

2. President Washington’s Foreign Policy -8.03% 

3. Monroe Doctrine -7.75% 

4. The Federalist Papers -4.70% 

5. Settlement of Jamestown -2.03% 

6. American Revolutionary War -1.83% 

7. War of 1812 -1.56% 

8. Civil War Events -1.54%
9. Thomas Paine and ‘Common Sense’ -1.49% 

10. Reconstruction -0.89%